Can you burn tea? (3 Helpful Tips)

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, can you burn tea? We will discuss how you can prevent your tea from getting burnt and how to make a perfect cup of tea. We will also discuss the variations in green, white, grey, and black tea.

Can you burn tea?

You can burn tea. If you boil the tea for too long, you run the risk of burning and ruining your tea.

Tea is sensitive to high temperatures; let it be white, green, oolong, or even black tea. Tea types differ in the degree of enzymatic oxidation related to their processing; green tea is non fermented, white tea is lightly fermented, oolong tea is semi-fermented, and black tea is fully fermented (2).

Lighter versions of tea are more sensitive to high heat. White tea, for example, can become extremely bitter, strong, and sometimes even charred if you pour boiling hot water into it. In tea processing, young tea leaves including the bud and the first few leaves are the most commonly used in the production of a high-quality tea product. In fact, for the production of certain green teas and white teas, manual plucking is required to get the bud, the top, and the second leaf (2).

A study revealed that 21.3% of US adults aged >19 years reported drinking tea daily (1).

What makes burnt tea taste bitter?

Hot water causes compounds from tea to steep out into the water. The hotter the water, the faster the compounds are released into the drink. 

One of the compounds called tannins contributes to the bitterness of the tea. Consequently, as tannins proceed to make their way into the hot water, it causes the tea to take on the burnt taste. It also causes the tea to contain high levels of caffeine as well.

Water temperature and tea infusion time have a significant impact on the extraction efficiency of compounds such as polyphenols and methylxanthines (mainly caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine). At home, the brewing temperature is usually in the range of 65–95°C, while green and white tea is usually brewed at a lower temperature than black tea. Some studies show that a higher polyphenol content in teas can be achieved with longer brewing times (>10 min), but this mainly applies to the extraction of compounds in industrial applications, as astringency and bitterness increase over time, affecting the organoleptic properties of the drink (3).

How to brew the perfect cup of tea?

Different varieties of tea need to be brewed for varying amounts of time. The steeping time varies for each green, white, grey, or black tea. The darker the tea, the higher the temperature you need to brew it. 

 Let us discuss the steeping time required for each tea variety;

  • To make white tea, you need water between 158 to 167 Fahrenheit and let it steep for 2 to 6 minutes.
  • To make green tea, you need water between 167 to 176 Fahrenheit and let it steep for 2 to 4 minutes.
  • To make oolong tea, you need water between 185 to 206 Fahrenheit and let it steep for a minute.
  • To make black tea, you need water between 195 to 212 Fahrenheit and let it steep for 3 to 5 minutes.

You can use a timer or watch to keep track of the steeping time of tea and also use a thermometer to keep track of the temperature to prevent your tea from getting burnt. 

Why is it least likely for you to burn black tea?

An Important process taking place in tea leaves is the reaction of polyphenolic compounds (mainly catechins) catalyzed by polyphenol oxidases released from the cell juice during the maceration of the raw material. This results in the condensation of catechins to tannins, the oxidation products of which significantly shape the taste, aroma features, and color of tea (3).

While other types of tea are more susceptible to a higher temperature, you run as much of a risk of burning black tea. Black tea is the most oxidized tea among the other varieties and the easiest to brew. 

Green tea, black tea, and Oolong tea are all extracted from Camellia sinensis leaves but unlike them, green tea is not oxidized to any degree.

Black and grey tea are fermented, hence, owing to the dark color. Green tea and white tea are not fermented therefore they retain a light color. The lesser the fermented tea is, the healthier it is. 

The leaves are left to dry in sunlight until they wither. The leaves are dried and then start to ferment which takes around four to seven days. 

Black tea already being oxidized becomes tolerant to high temperatures. Hence, it is the hardest to burn black tea. It also takes the longest for the oxidized compounds to brew into a good cup of black tea. It is considered that black teas contain the least polyphenolic compounds, slightly more of them are present in oolong (semi-fermented) teas, and the most in green, white or yellow teas (3).

However, it is worth noting that any tea can be burnt if it is heated for too long. Even though black tea does not have a delicate leaf, hot water can over-extract the compounds and cause bitterness. Studies demonstrate that the higher the temperature and the longer brewing time, the more compounds are released into the tea infusions, increasing bitterness and astringency of the tea (3).

On the other side, if you scorch the tea leaves you might be able to make the most out of your tea. Overboiled tea does not only have tannins but it releases more caffeine and L-theanine as well. The level of l-theanine, one of the most important amino acids in tea, is found to be high in green tea due to the lack of fermentation in its processing (2).

 A higher caffeine content means you get a higher stimulating effect for the same amount of coffee.

Moreover, L-theanine compounds in tea have a calming effect. Hence, a strong cup of tea makes a good tonic that is rich in beneficial compounds.

L-theanine (γ-glutamylethylamide) is a unique non-protein amino acid found in green tea (Camellia sinensis), a widely consumed beverage associated with human health. Given that L-theanine is a phytochemical ingested in daily life, it has the potential to become a nutraceutical ingredient that mitigates and prevents stress-related psychic confusion in modern society (4).

Let us look at the steps needed to make a nice cup of tea;

  1. Heat water to a temperature below the boiling point or let it cool down if you boil it.
  2. Have the teabag or tea leaves ready and pour the hot water over them.
  3. Let the tea steep for the appropriate length of time; 4 minutes for black tea and 2-3 minutes for the lighter versions.
  4. Take the tea leaves out and discard them.
  5. Add sugar and milk if you prefer.

In this brief guide, we answered the question, can you burn tea? We discussed how you can prevent your tea from getting burnt and how to make a perfect cup of tea. We also discussed the variations in green, white, grey, and black tea.

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Wong, Melody, Sameera Sirisena, and Ken Ng. Phytochemical profile of differently processed tea: A review. J Food Sci, 2022, 87, 1925-1942.